London – Day 3

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Family Ties

My Great grandparents and my Grandfather both lived in a suburb of London within a street of each other. We started off our third day in London by visiting the area they lived in. In this instance the houses were actually still there and intact. We visited the house my Grandfather was born in and lived in as well as a house he lived in immediately before he moved to Australia as well as my Great grandparents’ house. It was very interesting to see these places. It was also interesting to walk through the suburb where they would have also walked 100 years ago. I was glad that we got to see it.

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Next it was back onto the tube and to the Natural History Museum which has a great dinosaur exhibition as well as lots of animal displays. They also had a section on the earth which included natural distasters – earthquakes, volcanoes etc. There is a display which is set up like a shop from Tokyo during an earthquake. You stand inside the shop and there is a simulation of the earthquake which was quite violent.

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We walked toward Kensington Gardens and did a lap of Albert hall on the way. We walked past Kensington Palace but no sign of the inhabitants (I think they were in Australia).

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We stopped for a bit of a play at the Princess Diana Memorial playground that had been recommended to us by the Fawssetts. Legoboy had a good time playing on the pirate ship as well as running around on the playground. The rest of us just enjoyed a sit down.

To finish the day we went to Notting Hill. This was a nice place to walk around and check out the houses. Of course we had to explain to the kids the movie Notting Hill. In the movie the characters visit a private park. We found a few of these in the area – a park that is locked and shared by the home owners around it – just a little bit exclusive.

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London – Day 2

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We started our second day in London with a walk through the park and then past Buckingham Palace, after our bus and tube trip. The weather was still pretty warm by UK standards so as we walked through the park there were people out in the sun everywhere. You can even hire a deck chair for the day.

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We went to Westminster Abbey and had a look around the outside and then went across the road to the Parliament buildings and then around the corner to check out Big Ben.

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Next to Westminster Abbey is a school and we checked out the fair they were having – of course the girls thought it would be good to buy some books since they were in English and were only 20p each – pity we had to carry them around for the rest of the day.

Each evening Westminster Abbey holds evensong, a church service of music and choral singing as well as some Bible readings. We decided it would be interesting to experience and we were right (it also saved us the almost $100 in entry fees). The choir and the pipe organ were very impressive.

The walk back to the tube took us through Trafalgar Square and to Leicester Square where we checked out the Shakespeare monument.

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Next stop was M & M World which is as the name suggests all about M & M’s. It is a bit of a mind boggling store with just about everything imaginable with and M & M on it over 3 floors. You could even purchase M & M’s and then have them printed with your own message which is pretty cool.

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London – Day 1

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London is a big city – but you probably knew that – and in an effort to reduce smog in this city of 20 million or so (about the population of Australia in an area about 1/8th of Tasmania) they have a Low Emission Zone (LEZ) for diesel engine vehicles (which of course Max is) which you have to comply to and register for before entering the area – or face huge fines. That is OK if your vehicle is registered in the UK – just go online and enter your rego and if you comply no problem. But for us since Max is registered in Germany we need to complete a 5 page form and send in a copy of registration papers 10 – 15 days before you plan to visit and select the days you will be entering the zone. We are flat out knowing what we might be doing tomorrow let alone 10 days in advance as well as the problem of printing and copying forms. So we found a place to stay inside the M25 (the major ring road around London) but outside the LEZ, so about 45 minutes on a bus and tube into the centre of London.

I needed to do some work and planned to do it once we stopped in London – I figured that we would even have wifi at the caravan park or as we were so close to the capital of the UK mobile data would be good. WRONG, we arrived and no wifi, no problem I can just use our mobile internet, nope the 3G coverage was no good. I needed to get the work done before we started on London so I went and asked at the office. “Yeah, Internet is no good here” was the response I got. So I ended up wandering around the campsite with the laptop out and my mobile dongle trying to find some coverage. I ended up setting up an office in the laundry – I got some interesting looks, but got the work done.

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The weather for our time in London was hot. In fact the whole time we have been in the UK we have had great weather and we thank God for this. None of the miserable rainy weather that we thought we may get. While we were in Ireland it actually got pretty hot, even reaching 30 degrees on a couple of days.

Our first full day in London started out with the bus (red double decker of course) ride and then our first experience of the London Tube system. We passed through a few iconic stations that we recognised.

We arrived at Oxford Circus station and then walked along Regent Street and to Piccadilly Circus and across Pall Mall – it felt a little like we were on a Monopoly board.

Along the way we checked out Piccadilly Circus with its huge electronic billboard and masses of people, London buses and taxis.

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We went and visited the Horse guards.

It is a little strange because everything looks so familiar, I guess because we see so many images of London.

Legoboy had been hanging out to visit Hamleys toy store. The store covers 6 floors and I believe it is the largest toy store in the UK. We of course made a beeline for the Lego level along with a few stops along the way including a stop to check out the Monopoly sets for our friends. There are also a number of Lego models of the Royal Family as well as Star Wars characters etc.

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In the morning when we were walking past the store we passed a bus stop and I thought that it looked like the glass window in it was made out of blocks like lego. While we were at Hamleys the doorman suggested to Legoboy that he should check out the Lego bus stop just outside. The whole bus stop including the seats and the sign are all made out of Lego – pretty impressive.

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In the afternoon we visited the British Museum which had a large exhibition of Greek and Egyptian artefacts. Some of these had been collected and returned to England in dubious circumstances.

We enjoyed a good first day in London and had a good chance to wander around and get our bearings a little bit.

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An Interesting Village

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On our way out of Oxford we came across a little village that we thought was interesting.

We stopped and had a look around and bought some nice treats at the local bakery. As we were having a look around the grounds of the church a lady came and asked if we wanted to have a look inside – so we had a private tour with the vicar’s wife.

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Apparently the church was started here because the town had a very bad name. Back before the church was started, those who were associated with Oxford university had very strict rules applied to them in the Oxford town area. This town, Wheatley, on the other hand was just outside this area so it became the place for much mischief.

They have a very peculiar lockup to deal with any offenders though.

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Wheatley Manor is believed to be the oldest building in the village and I guess where the village got its name.

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We also came across another very aptly named house.

We had fun discovering this little village and one that we hadn’t known existed.

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A Little Bit of Learning

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I knew that Oxford was a university town, but I had a vision in my head of a town with a big university and lots of people in the town were either students or worked for the uni. What I envisioned was a little off the mark. Oxford is actually a town which is a university. There is Oxford university and it is made up of lots of colleges. These colleges along with university buildings like libraries and exam rooms make up the town. I am sure all of you knew this already though.

The buildings are very old and very grand in most instances. We enjoyed wandering around amongst all of these buildings. We visited the covered market and St Mary the Virgin Church. We walked past the Radcliffe Camera (a library) which we were definitely not allowed into if we were not students.

We checked out Magdellan College where past notable students include Oscar Wilde and Dudley Moore and CS Lewis; JR Tolkien was also a lecturer here. We had a wander around St Edmunds Hall which is the oldest academic society for the education of undergraduates at any university and dates back to the 13th century. There is also a church on this site which is now used as a library.

We passed Balliol College which you may remember has a connection to Sweetheart Abbey that we visited in Scotland. We also dropped in on Christ Church College where the security guards wear bowler hats and where the maths don wrote Alice in Wonderland.

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Even though it was holiday time the whole town was very busy with tourists, students, bikes and tour guides going everywhere.

We also picked up a little on the rivalry that exists between Oxford and Cambridge in the short time we were here. An interesting part of the history between Oxford and Cambridge is that in 1209 a local woman was killed by an Oxford student. Some town folk got together and hanged two of his fellow students. Other students got a little worried about all of this and some headed over to Cambridge and started a university.

We had a very educational time here and enjoyed checking out a place that is very iconic but the children have decided not to apply here.

 

 

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Stones, Circles and Ditches

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Avebury is a little village that is built inside an ancient stone circle and ditch. This is the only stone circle in the world that has a church inside it, it also has a pub. As you can imagine the stone circle here is quite large and there is also a ditch and a mound around the outside of the circle so it is a large construction.

Some of the stones here have been re-erected and placed into concrete by an archaeologist who had purchased the site in the 1900’s. This of course is not the ‘done’ thing now-a-days where everything is left as it was (or put back together after taking it all apart for study purposes). There are also a number of stones missing because it is believed that people cut up the stones and used them for building – an irresistible source of easy stone close to home I guess.

We visited the museum on site and had a bit of a look around the village including Avebury Manor which is also inside the circle.

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We walked through the paddocks and around the stones and up onto the mound. Unlike Stonehenge, it is possible to get up close and personal with these stones and while some there were hugging them like long lost friends we chose not to. There had been a huge rain shower just before we arrived so there was a fair bit of water lying around. It also seemed that there had been an accident on the main highway and all of the traffic was being diverted through Avebury so we were almost run over as we tried to cross the usually quiet road to get from one section of the circle to the next.

Another interesting place that raises as many questions as it answers. I guess the people who built these places were not that different from us today. They saw that their neighbour down the road had a stone circle so they had to have one too – just bigger.

On the way to Avebury we saw our first Chalk horse and the next day we visited White Horse Hill (sounds like a name out of a bad western).

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Like stone circles that are built with precision alignment, the horse on White Horse Hill fascinates me. The only place you can see the full horse is from the air, however somehow the people who built it were able to come up with a relatively normal looking horse. Certainly a lot better than if I tried to draw a horse with my eyes closed. Because you cannot see the complete horse from anywhere my photos are not that good, so you will need to google it.

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Also on White Horse Hill is Uffington Castle – which is an iron age “castle” so actually just looks like a bit of a flat piece of land on the top of a hill.

SWTTM who is a little sceptical of the whole Chalk horse thing (“Who says it is a horse or that it wasn’t made last century to suck tourists in?”) thinks the castle is in fact a cricket pitch with a bit of an earth wall around it to stop the players losing their ball.

I guess we will never really know the mysteries of stones circles, burial tombs and chalk horses, but to me it confirms the creativity and intelligence that has been put into humans by a creative God.

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Bath

 

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After we had been to Stonehenge we made our way back to Bath. The crowds had cleared by this time and we were able to find somewhere to stop for the night.

The next morning we headed off to the Roman baths which of course is high on the list of anyone visiting this city. I am often amazed at the cleverness of the Romans and of the fact that a lot of this cleverness was lost in the Middle Ages. The Romans had plumbing and central heating and then 1000 years later we were all going to the toilet behind a tree and sitting around an open fire – staggering.

Needless to say I enjoyed the baths and the work and engineering that went into building a place like this.

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We wandered the streets and enjoyed the malls and got romantic and Jane Austen’ish as we took a turn along the Royal Crescent and around the Circus (with not a clown in sight) and then back through the park – all the while keeping an eye out for Mr Darcy. We also visited the Assembly Hall where of course many of Jane’s characters took a turn around the room.

The Assembly Hall was also the home of the fashion museum, which of course the ladies enjoyed. As I have said many times before a museum is worth nothing without a good dress up area. We all got into the era at this place and had a lot of fun posing in front of an 18th century streetscape.

We dropped into the Jane Austen centre but didn’t bother going to the exhibition, but rather walked up the street to the house that Jane Austen actually lived in which is now a dentist surgery. Maybe this is why guys say “I would rather have my teeth pulled than watch Sense and Sensibility”.

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Stonehenge

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After visiting our friends in Bristol we planned to go to Bath. We didn’t think about this too much – we arrived on a Sunday and the place was packed and we could not get a park. The only motorhome parking in town is also where the tourist coaches park and they were double parked. So we decided to save some time and aggravation and head to Stonehenge.

They have built a new visitor centre (apparently Australian architect) here and re-directed the road so that you can no longer pull up and take photos through the fence. It was very busy and the carpark was full so we had to park in thigh high grass – fortunately the grass did not catch fire even though it was quite dry.

The visitor centre has an exhibition running through some of the theories about Stonehenge and why it is there as well as a recreation of some ancient houses which were interesting to have a look at.

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The new visitor centre has been built a couple of kilometres away from the stones so you either have a very long walk or take one of the Landrover trains (all very British). As you would expect there are people everywhere. You are not allowed near the stones, which is a little disappointing as it would be good to be able to wander amongst them and get a sense of how massive they actually are. The up side is that you can get photos that do not have hundreds of people in them.

No one knows why the stones are here, but even more fascinating to me is how they are here. These are big lumps of rock standing in a circle with equally large lumps of rock placed across the top of them. I am amazed at the ingenuity of people and God’s gift of creativity that led people to build this place.


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Connections from Across the World

 

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As some of you will know we had a motorhome (bus) in Australia for some time. As most of you will also know we did not actually do that much traveling in the old bus. But one time when we did go away we were camped at a spot near Gympie and we saw a little girl playing outside. Now kids and motorhomes don’t go together that much and we were always on the look out for other kids for ours to play with so we sent our kids to play. So that is how we got to meet a lovely English family. We met up with them one other time in Australia – this was about 10 years ago.

Early in the year I sent out an email to everyone in my contacts list about our trip to Europe and we got a reply from England with the offer to visit in Bristol, so we took up the offer.

We had a lovely visit and of course everyone has grown up significantly since our first encounter (well the kids, and Legoboy wasn’t even born back then). The girls even got to play with the pet snakes which were a little unexpected (but apparently a pretty common pet here).

We were very glad that we took the time to catch up.

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Welsh Life

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Fortunately as you drive around Wales the road signs are in English as well as Welsh. As you can see from the sign above there is no way of us understanding Welsh.

We visited the Welsh Life museum which is a collection of historic Welsh buildings that have been moved to the site.

The site has varied buildings from pig sties (no matter what anyone says my room never looked like that), farm houses, tannery, sawmill, church, shops, blacksmith, bakery, public buildings and a weaving mill. Most of these buildings are also furnished in period furniture.

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We met one of the carpenters who is responsible for dismantling buildings and re-building them on site. He was cooking scones in the wood fired oven in the historic bakery – obviously a guy with diverse skills.

It was a very interesting place to visit and gave an insight into Welsh history all in one location. I was mostly amazed at the work taken to dismantle all of these buildings and move them here.

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